Illiberal Democracy in Hungary and Wisconsin

Photo by Anthony Crider | CC BY 2.0

In Europe there is much alarm at the return of right-wing populism, previously unseen since the 1930s. A common thread connecting right-wing populist governments together is the economic dislocation experienced by the working and middle classes of the post-Soviet bloc since the 1990s.

Parts of Europe see “illiberal democracy,” an oxymoron coined by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, taking hold. Illiberal democracy arose by muting dissent, demonizing opponents and through structural manipulation of elections to gain disproportionate legislative representation. To win power, effective control was also exercised through soft power, such as creating partisan media outlets to channel opinion in support of chauvinist policies.

Yet, lest we think It Can’t Happen Here in the United States, to quote Sinclair Lewis’ 1930s classic on the dangers of ignoring authoritarianism at home, we might look at the similarities between events in Hungary and in the United States. In Hungary, an effective media presence disregarding journalistic norms of informed discourse, was accompanied by its promoting illiberal democracy. The state was used to regulate media in favor of the government. In the United States, deregulation was used to achieve a similar end.

During the New Deal and after World War II independence and fairness were both highly prized qualities in media, but also enforced by regulation. Rules such as 7/7/7 media law limited…

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